What Does Health Psychology Involve?
There are many psychological and behavioral variables that can have an impact on one’s physical well-being. The mind and psyche are extremely powerful elements of the human body and while disease and illnesses can directly impact your physical health, so does the human mind. The study of how the mind can influence prevailing medical conditions and health is called health psychology.
As a health psychologist, you will be involved with developing tools and techniques to prevent illnesses through behavior and habits. You will also research and explore those behaviors and mental experiences that promote positive health and improve the quality of life. A great deal of time and effort will be spent by way of research, exploration and examination with the sole purpose of promoting positive health through ones psychology.
The manner in which health psychologists deliver services varies. On the one hand, health psychology is concerned with how individuals who are physically ill cope with that illness on a mental and emotional level. At the same time, health psychology is also concerned with promoting positive health behaviors to prevent illness in the first place. This may take place on a macro level, in the form of devising a campaign to inform children about the dangers of smoking or teen drinking.
Health psychologists might also work at a micro level, such as with a family to explain the dietary changes necessary to help prevent the development of diabetes if a family history of that disease exists. The delivery of services will depend in part on the employment setting of the health psychologist. Many health psychologists work in hospitals, where they tend to operate with individuals and families. However, many government agencies employ health psychologists to devise policy and health promotion materials.
With roots in behavioral medicine, which studies the interaction between behavior, biology, and the environment, health psychology has evolved into one of the most rapidly developing fields of behavioral studies and treatment. As concern about prevention of illness has grown over the last three decades, health psychology has exploded in popularity in the United States and abroad.
Among the 56 divisions of the American Psychological Association, health psychology is now the sixth largest, despite being established less than 40 years ago. Such popularity has been experienced in the Health Psychology Divisions of the British Psychological Society and the European Health Psychology Society as well.
What is the Work Environment For Health Psychologists?
The area of health psychology is mainly concerned with health matters across a range of different groups of the public, working to better understand problems and initiate programs to help reduce them. There are essentially four specialist professions for health psychologists:
- Public health psychologists – working with governments, public health psychologists may be involved in the development of public health campaigns or in policies regarding health.
- Community health psychologists – these individuals are concerned with community health. They may focus on problem areas of disease or health issues within a specific community, work to identify why these issues exists and what processes can be put in place to combat them.
- Occupational health psychologists – sometimes working with individuals and sometimes at the level of organizational policy, the ultimate aim of psychologists in this specialty is to improve the impact someone’s job has on their physical health. Companies often employ them to assess their workplaces for possible improvements to increase happiness levels and therefore productivity of staff.
- Clinical health psychologists – the work of this specialty is on a more individualistic basis, assessing how behavior and lifestyle choices affect an individual’s health before working with them to change problems in these areas for a positive impact upon physical health. They may also look to use psychological techniques to help patients deal with health concerns (e.g. coping with pain, coping with a chronic condition etc)
Whilst the roles of these specialties vary, the general principles are the same.
- Identify problem areas.
- Use psychological theories to promote reduction of behaviors which are harmful to health (e.g smoking).
- Use psychological theories and interventions to promote positive behaviors and primary prevention of health conditions (e.g exercise).
- Focus on delivery of healthcare, improving communication to the public about health related matters.
Health psychologists across all disciplines may also be involved in research to further knowledge about the field – which techniques work best to improve positive behaviors, which work best to reduce negative behaviors etc.
Health psychologists have a wide range of possibilities for practice. One way is to go into private practice seeing individuals wanting to make healthy lifestyle choices. Hospitals are also a good place to help with lifestyle changes in patients who want to prevent serious illness or who need to make changes because of existing health problems. Whatever choice you make, health psychology can be a rewarding way to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
How Do I Become a Health Psychologist?
The first step in becoming a health psychologist starts with getting the most basic degree at the undergraduate level. This is most often a bachelor degree because of the well-rounded and through approach offered by the curriculum. To get admission into a reputable bachelor program, it is important to have a high school diploma with some exposure to science subjects.
Some students may prefer to get a bachelor degree in general psychology and choose to focus on health psychology at the master’s level. On the other hand, some students may opt for a diploma or an associate degree that focuses on health psychology. In either scenario, an undergraduate degree may be sufficient for an entry level position or that of an assistant’s. A bachelor in health psychology should help you develop a solid foundation which will help you in the future.
A masters degree in health psychology provides a more focused approach on this niche of psychology. Possible courses that you may come across are chronic conditions, psychological aspects of healthcare, quantitative research methods, epidemiology, behavioral analysis, delivering healthcare, stress management, and so on. To gain admission in a master’s program in health psychology, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree. You may be required to have some practical exposure in the form of internships or supervised training.
A doctorate in health psychology is the next step to bettering yourself and adding a feather in your cap. This level of degree is focused on advanced concepts and applications in health psychology and entails quite a bit of research.
Most doctorate level programs require students to submit an original research project which could be a thesis paper or a dissertation. To get into a health psychology doctorate program you will need to have a master’s degree and anywhere between 2 to 5 years of practical work experience.
Apart from specialized doctoral programs in health psychology, many universities offer doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, social, or experimental psychology with a specialization in health psychology.
Candidates for doctoral degrees usually get experience as students in clinical settings as well as conducting original research. For their research projects students enlist the help of a faculty adviser and a faculty committee to guide them in designing, carrying out, and evaluating original studies. Students choose a problem in health psychology and apply their knowledge and skills to solving it.
After gathering data, analyzing it, and interpreting it, the doctoral candidate writes a dissertation and presents it to his or her faculty committee. If the committee finds the dissertation worthy the student is admitted to the community of psychologists.
How Do I Get a License?
After earning a doctorate in health psychology the psychologist is ready to apply to his or her state board of psychology for a license to practice. States, territories, and provinces require candidates to show proof of having a doctoral degree from an accredited university. In addition most boards require the candidate to pass the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). In addition boards may require other tests, such as examinations on jurisprudence for a particular state.
What is the Career Outlook?
Psychology is a field that is experiencing growth and expansion. Overall, the employment growth is psychology is expected to be 6% during the period between 2021 and 2031. Individuals, societies and companies continue to turn to psychologists to help them manage their mental and psychological problems.
What is the Average Salary of a Health Psychologist?
According to the American Psychological Association health psychologists, working in direct human services, on average earned $80,000 per year. According to the BLS, psychologists working in general medical and surgical hospitals on average earned $102,900 per year in 2021.